Missing File Formatting

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Whenever I open a document using File Open all my formatting is gone, and there is garbage at the end…

…but the document looks fine if I open it from the list at the bottom of the File menu or double-click on it in Windows Explorer.

This article applies primarily only to ancient versions of Word (Word 2000 and earlier).

If you experience this, almost certainly, the “Files of type” setting in your File Open dialog has been changed to “Recover Text from Any File.” If you will set it back to “Word Documents,” you will find that your document is fine (providing you haven’t saved it in its “funny” state). 

The “Recover Text from Any File” option is a useful one in many ways. In addition to its intended use to salvage text from a damaged document, this setting allows you to get a sort of peek “behind the curtain” to see how Word documents are formatted (very different from WordPerfect documents with their inline codes). And you can find near the end a list of the styles and fonts used in the document, which can be useful information. But it’s easy to forget that the “Files of type” setting can be “sticky,” even between Word sessions, so you have to be careful to remember to reset it after using a different setting to open a file.

If you are the sole user of your computer and don’t think you have suffered any memory blackouts, you may wonder how the file type got set to “Recover Text from Any File” in the first place. This sometimes happens when you try to open a file from another application. If you do not have “Confirm conversion at open” checked on the General tab of Tools | Options, Word will not ask you which converter to use for the file. If none of Word’s other converters work, Word will default to “Recover Text from Any File” in an attempt to open the file.

Users of recent versions of Word rarely encounter this problem because, at least since Word 2002, the setting has not been “sticky” (though you will find that Word reverts to “All Files,” which may not be your preferred setting). In Word 2007 and above, because of their new XML file format, this setting is available only for “legacy” (Word 97-2003) documents.


This article copyright © 2000, 2017 by Suzanne S. Barnhill. This article, which originally appeared at the Word MVPs’ site, contains (or at one time contained) contributions from a number of former Word MVPs, the identities of most of whom are lost to history, but it appears that Dave Rado, Jonathan West, and “Ibby” Ibbotson were among them.